Travelling in the northwest of Yunnan Province

In the northwest of Yunnan, the land of wonder, we have seen splendid landscapes, visited places of interest such as the old towns of Lijiang and Dali, and got to know the unique cultures of ethnic groups such as the Tibetans, the Naxis and the Mosuos. Although we only had a quick glimpse of the land we were deeply impressed by its scenic landscapes.

Confucius Institute Reporter, Zhang Yan
Setting off from Lijiang, we drove west about 30 kilometres along the provincial highway. Then the car turned north going along national highway 214 until it stopped at an intersection. One way led to Tiger Leaping Gorge, the other to the legendary Shangri-La. In the British writer James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon , Shangri-La is surrounded by lofty mountains, a place of peace and tranquility in the east.

The Jinsha ‘Gold Sand’ River, originating from the Tanggula Mountains in Qinghai Province, divides Tibet and Sichuan. It turns east at Lijiang and becomes the upper reach of the Yangtze River.Research shows that in the Song Dynasty, people flocked here to pan for gold because gold dust was found in the river. We drove along the river, seeing little vegetation, till we reached the middle section of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. After getting off the car and walking for nearly two hours down the winding path, we reached the bottom of the gorge. Standing beside a huge rock on the riverbank, we had a magnificent view of the hundred-metre-long valley: thunderous white waters rushing through columns of rocks,crashing against the rocky banks and forming swirling whirlpools.

Walking down the valley to feel the thunderous Jinsha River at a close range
Walking down the valley to feel the thunderous Jinsha River at a close range

As the Jinsha River flows between Deqin County in Yunnan and Derong County in Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture, Sichuan, it runs around the pyramid-like Rizhui peak, forming a beautiful U turn called the Moon Bay. Here is the demarcation line between Yunnan and Sichuan. On one side is the town of Benzilan in Deqin County,Diqing Prefecture, Yunnan; on the other side is the village of Zigeng, Derong County, Sichuan.

Shangri-La is located in Diqing Tibetan autonomous prefecture—with Deqin County as its capital. In Tibetan, Shangri-La means ‘the sun and moon in one’s heart’. The place became famous and fascinating in the 1930s after people read about it in Hilton’s famous novel. The scenery along the road to Shangri-La is a feast to the eyes: small villages dot along the river valleys and in between high mountains, the vast grassland surrounding Napa Lake, wild flowers in full bloom and herds of yaks and sheep grazing along brooks. Before realising it, we had reached the narrow pass of the White Horse Snow Mountain at an altitude of 4,292 metres. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the whole mountain clearly because its top was always obscured by floating clouds.

The beautiful U-shaped Moon Bay
The beautiful U-shaped Moon Bay

In Deqin there is a man-made scenic spot—Thirteen Pagodas Welcoming Guests, which is one of the best vantage points for viewing the Meili Snow Mountain. On the viewing platform decorated with colourful prayer ribbons,visitors have a frontal view of the two main peaks of the Meili Snow Mountain—the Kawagebo Peak, which is believed to be the spiritual home of a warrior god of the same name, and the Mianzimu Peak, which is believed to be the spiritual home of a goddess of the same name and wife of Kawagebo. Why were 13 white pagodas built there? In Tibetan mythology,heaven is described as consisting of 13 levels. The 13th level,as described by Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism, is the pure abode with serenity and eternality, free from worldly conflicts. In Tibetan culture, therefore, 13 is a lucky and holy number. After visiting the 13 white pagodas,we headed for Deqin County. This section of the Yunnan-Tibet Highway (called Dian-Zang Lu in Chinese) is jokingly referred to as “Viscera Jolting Highway”, which is homophonous with Dian-Zang Lu . People joke about it because there are so many sharp left and right turns and the road surface is so bumpy that,passengers in a car will feel as if their internal organs are being jolted out of their bodies.

Yunnan

At 6:30 pm, after driving for nearly four hours, we finally arrived at Feilai Temple, the best place for viewing the magnificent Meili Snow Mountain bathed in golden sunlight.

At 6:00 am we got to the vantage point to see the legendary golden mountains. Because of the weather, the Meili Snow Mountain is often obscured by fog or snow or hidden behind clouds. The rare view of the golden mountains can only be seen on a clear morning, when the first rays of the sun penetrate the clouds and illuminate the mountain peaks. As the golden hue spreads over ever larger areas, the splendid view of silver white snow mountains turning into golden mountains will gradually emerge. We initially saw a range of snow-capped peaks in the distance looking chillingly white against the dark grey sky. At first, with many clusters of clouds floating in front of the mountains, we were not able to have a clear and panoramic view of the whole mountain range. We prayed that the winds would quickly blow the clouds away and lift the veil over the mountains. Fortunately, the winds were strong and the clouds moved fast. A gigantic white peak turned orange within about ten seconds, which then became a warm and magnificent golden hue. We all cheered with eyes brimming with tears.

Yunnan

The Meili Snow Mountain boasts thirteen peaks which exceed 6,000 meters above sea level. The highest peak is Kawagebo,which rises to 6,740 metres. It is still a virgin peak for no one has ever scaled its top. In 1902, British mountaineers made an attempt first, but failed; between 1987 and 1996, successive attempts were made by a Japanese mountaineering team, a US team and a Sino-Japanese team, all ending in failure. The second worst accident in the history of mountaineering stuck between November 1990 and January 1991, when a group of Japanese and Chinese climbers attempted the peak. All 17 members of the expedition team died.It wasn’t until seven years later that their remains were discovered in the Mingyong Glacier at the foot of the summit by a local Tibetan who was picking herbs in the mountain. In 1996, the local government issued an order banning all climbing attempts. Although the world’s highest peak Mount Chomolungma (known in the west as Mount Everest) has been successfully scaled many times, Kawagebo has proved time and again to be an unconquerable holy mountain.

Yunnan

In the northwest of Yunnan, the land of wonder, we have seen splendid landscapes, visited places of interest such as the old towns of Lijiang and Dali, and got to know the unique cultures of ethnic groups such as the Tibetans, the Naxis and the Mosuos. Although we only had a quick glimpse of the land we were deeply impressed by its scenic landscapes.


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Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 47. Volume VI. November 2016.

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